Nationals Baseball: Werth's legacy

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Werth's legacy

Jayson Werth hung up his spikes yesterday. (It's not a spam site! It's who is paying Heyman right now) The tributes are coming fast and furious.  I said my piece on Twitter but to repeat here for those wisely not on there : I think Werth was underrated as a player and overrated as a culture changer.

As a player Werth made what was rightly viewed as an overpaid contract (again - don't come at me here. I truly believe that I've spent more time looking at that deal than anyone and the Nats went with both max years & max dollars when one or other likely would have sufficed) into one where he almost got the Nationals their full value.  That isn't faint praise. Most long term contracts are clearly losing affairs meant to give value only for the first half then be sucked up in the latter years. To make a seven year deal come close to value? That's crazy.

And Werth did it in a very unusual way, coming twice back from injury to perform at a higher level than could be reasonably expected at his age off of injury. By giving the Nats a better than you'd think baserunner for the front of this contract and staving off the worst of his defense as long as he could.  It was an extraordinary feat that is somehow put on the back burner.

Why is it put on the back burner? Because Werth has been more symbol than player in DC.  He was brought in right before the team got good as a big FA signing that signified the Nats were ready to move on. And they did.  And he started making noise in the clubhouse for changes and they made a lot of them. He endeared himself to the fans with his appearance and demeanor and to the scribes with his willingness to give a good quote. It all seemed to line-up as if he was the turning point, everyone wanted him to be the turning point, so let's just agree that he was.

Except if you follow sports long enough you know that the flow works far more in the "winning breeds a championship clubhouse" then the other way around. You win, people look for all the good you have to explain why.  And objectively Werth didn't do what was said he was going to do when brought in. There was the idea he would open the FA floodgates as guys would see DC was a desirable place to be and flock here. Instead FAs more often passed up DC (and their unusual salary structures) for other places. He was supposed to provide a veteran leadership that would toughen the team in adverse times. But nearly whenever challenged by a high-caliber team in the regular season or playoffs, the Nats folded, losing divisions and series. And that positive clubhouse you hear about was the same clubhouse where Werth helped set up the "2 year and out" manager cycle, went to jail for speeding with seemingly zero care about it, and revolted at least once, maybe twice (Riggleman's tenure possibly, Williams tenure definitely) with literal choking going on.  He may have been in control of the clubhouse but the clubhouse was not in control.

I'm resigned to be alone on this island though because people love Werth the symbol. For fans especially he marks the dividing line between awful and good and whether or not he was really a major reason why* is unimportant. HE'S important and that's that. When ultimately you are correlated with winning, causation gets left in the wind. 

*If you can't tell - I'd say he was a pretty big reason why... on the field.


SM said...

Nicely done, Harper.

Can't decide if it's an elegy or an ode, though.

Anonymous said...

A very balanced and well thought out view of Werth. A more metaphorical description may be that he was able to lead the team out of the bondage of expansion status but not to the promised land of a championship. And he definitely had his flaws as a player and a leader. As a player, I was frustrated with his inability to put the ball in play, often taking strike 3 because he thought he knew the strike zone better than the umpire. I think that helped feed poor team performance (e.g., Desmond and Espinosa). And while he may have been applauded by his calling out Williams, at that stage of his career, he should have recognized the disruption that was creating and seen what he could have been done to help what was a bad situation. Still, he will also be a part of Nats history because of that crazy 2012 season. Question back to you, do you think he might make a good coach or bench manager? He obviously knows a lot but not sure he has the temperament or is that relevant.

nattydread said...

I was having a drink with an LA Dodgers fan on the day that Werth was signed. He looked up from his smart phone and said, "Man, the Nats got Werth. And they over-paid him!" And that became the story.

He was solid, not great. A nice mane. Not Strasberg great, not Max great, not Harper great, not Frank Howard great, not even Zimmerman excellent. He came from the Enemy, from the World Series winners, and he was going to deliver "winning" to Washington.

Alex Ovechkin delivered "winning". Werth had a nice mane, some good games, some good quotes. We did not deliver.

Baseball is an individual sport. But because the seasons are so long, it might be that there are clubhouse leaders. They help morale during the losing streaks and during the dog days. They exude unselfish winning spirit. But I agree with Harper. If such a creature exists, Werth was no clubhouse leader. He took the job because they offered it to him (clubhouse leader). But when they needed leaders in the playoffs, they've been hapless and grit-less and mostly leader-less.

Thanks Mr. Werth. Enjoy your time with the kids, enjoy your organic gardens. You gave us a few good moments, we paid you to do it. But lets not get carried away. Mission NOT accomplished.

Robot said...

I agree with what you're saying Harper, but a lot of Werth, particularly in has early years, was FUN for the fans. He tackled the Racing Presidents. He was a gnome! He and Bryce were bros who rocked along to "Take in Me" Werth the rest of the stadium.

Those things matter to fans, even if he was kinda an entitled a*hole who should have been DHing in the AL for last couple years of his contract.

Zimmerman11 said...

The Boras quote, about the "first true leader" was always a crock... I didn't like the signing but came to appreciate the player. Either you persuaded me or we have the same opinion.

But, it is also OKAY to overstate how great/important someone was either after their retirement or after their passing. It's one of those things we people w/ souls do that confuse the automatons. It's also okay for you to point out those kinds of things are irrational.

blovy8 said...

The 2012 game 4 homer is what legends are made of, and that's enough. I've got plenty of baseball memories after several decades of fandom, but that is top five.

Perhaps not for anyone else.

blovy8 said...

In that regard, as a Yankee fan growing up, you cannot tell me that Chris Chambliss was just an average player. Not ever. The reason you put up with the rest of the mundane moments is to experience one moment like he and Werth had, even if it means THAT PLAYER HIMSELF probably contributed to creating the situation before it happpened. Even better if it does in a way, because he's a fallible person, in a sport that accepts a lot of failure. It's part of being a human working in a group of disparate humans toward a goal. Not necessarily failure, but disappointment, probability, randomness, etc., just creates that space to be surprised and part of a thing.

And yeah, I know that there aren't many who care about that thing.

Josh Higham said...

My take here is that the Legend of Werth is not outsized. At the same time, I think Harper's overrated-and-underrated take is correct. Fans (and reporters) spin narratives that are sometimes fair, sometimes generous, and sometimes needlessly harsh. Players add value or don't. Whatever.

Ultimately, baseball has as much meaning as the people give it. If the fans love Werth for his game 4 homer, his hair and mystique, his devil-may-care attitude, his ridiculous walkup songs, and his relationship with Bryce, then Werth the public figure is that beloved character. If they hate him for his statuesque defense, flailing strikeouts, curmudgeonly attitude, and failure to win a championship, then Werth the public figure is that bum. If Werth is just a guy getting paid too much money for playing sportsball when there are REAL PROBLEMS™ in the world, so be it.

It's wrong to say "Werth was _____, and every other take is wrong," because the public meaning of Jayson Werth is in the eye of the beholder.

Jay said...

If Werth was the first great leader in Nats history, then he also was one of the founders of the Nats over confidence. The Nats act like they are the best ever and have never won a playoff series. I still can't believe they choked against the Giants after Tim Hudson said they lacked balls.

Ole PBN said...

That Tim Hudson line is the most pointed criticism of this team and it is sadly 100% accurate. Show up in prime time and that line gets dismissed. But until then, I will always think of that line every time playoffs come around for the Nats.

Werth was a good player, but I swear if he were clean shaven, I really think that fans wouldn't think as highly of the guy as they do. Nattydread nailed it, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Kubla said...

I went back and forth on how much I liked Werth during his tenure. He was definitely good for entertainment value, whether it was things went right (postseason hits, including the famous HR), or things went wrong (victim of an eephus pitch, the strange slide-stop thing, not being able to field something that any other professional baseball man could). I couldn't feel comfortable with the face of the franchise stuff. It felt like an admission that Bryce wouldn't be around forever and that Zim was toast. Overall, though, Werth was solid.

As far as performance, solid didn't always, or even usually, mean great. When you look at his career stats, that's pretty obvious. Werth is not a Cooperstown guy, unless hair mass becomes a criterion for induction. On the other hand, this was a team starving for solid players at one point, and it was better to have solid guys around the rising stars than total crap. I also felt like he would kill the Nats whenever they played the Phillies, so I was happy to bring him over to the good guys.

If Deadspin's "Remember Some Guys" thing exists in 10 years, I'm sure he will be among the Guys That Get Remembered. We will talk about him alongside Livan Hernandez, Dmitri Young, Jordan Zimmermann, and some other Nats guys who were also pretty good for a while. None of them delivered a playoff series win either.

blovy8 said...

This team waits for things they can't do.

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